By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
In nearly 50 years as an employee with Birmingham City Schools, Larry Contri has served in nearly every capacity except one – superintendent.
That changed last week when the Birmingham Board of Education named Dr. Contri Interim Superintendent after firing Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan.
“I was at another state board meeting when I got the call,” Contri said Wednesday during an hour long press conference. “Shocked would be a good adjective to use.”
Contri said his goal is to provide a quality education for all 24,000 students in the system.
“I take that challenge very seriously. . .and will move with gusto to achieve that goal,” he said.
The interim superintendent said he is in the process of transitioning to his new role and making modifications where necessary.
“It’s only with input from staff, family, community leaders, city government, state legislators, all of us working together with the focal point always being the 24,000 students in this district, we will succeed,” he said.
Contri has been a BCS employee since 1967. He’s the longest-serving employee within the system. Prior to being named interim superintendent on Sept. 22, Contri served as the district’s director of schools. In his career with Birmingham City Schools, he’s served as a teacher, elementary and high school principals, and coordinator of research.
He is a Birmingham native and product of Birmingham City Schools. He attended the now-closed Holman Elementary School and graduated from Woodlawn High School.
He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama, his master’s degree from Samford University and his doctorate from the University of Alabama.
Contri was named to the position after the Board of Education last week voted 6-3 to terminate Superintendent Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan’s contract effective immediately. Dr. Gacutan had served as superintendent since July 1, 2015.
The decision to fire Gacutan – known as Dr. G. – came during a packed school board meeting which lasted less than an hour.
Board members who voted to fire were April Williams, Cheri Gardner, Daagye Hendricks, Sandra Brown, Sherman Collins Jr. and board President Wardine Alexander. Those who voted against were Brian Giattina, Lyord Watson and Randall Woodfin.
Castlin-Gacutan was terminated without cause and according to her contract the school system will have to pay her as much as $400,000 for the next two years.
Efforts to reach Gacutan for comment were unsuccessful.
At the meeting, Woodfin was most vocal in his opposition to the termination. “I never thought that the day would come when I would be embarrassed to be a member of this body,” he said. “This action is both unwarranted and reckless. It shows a complete disregard for the students of the city and to Dr. G. as a professional.”
Woodfin said he could not “in good conscience be able to ask anyone to consider taking this position in the future. No one in their right mind would want to walk into a situation where you have one year to improve a system that has struggled for many decades.”
Hendricks said the decision was not a hasty decision nor personal.
“I want to go on record and say that I believe that collectively this board has afforded this superintendent every single opportunity to succeed,” she said. “I can tell you the millions of dollars of decisions that we have made to support the decisions that were recommended by the superintendent . . . This board is professional. We have worked diligently to get our accreditation back as a group.”
Hendricks added that she believes that the corporate partners would continue to support the system.
“I believe in Birmingham, I believe in our corporate partners and I believe in our children,” she said.